35 Editable Files

Editable files are the digital files generated for an open textbook, or other open educational resource, that can be easily changed or edited. Editable files allow faculty, students, and others using your book to put into practice all permissions granted by an open-copyright licence, especially the rights to revise and remix, as described in David Wiley’s 5Rs framework.

A pen poised on top of typed page that contains many corrections in red ink
Editable files allow for easier changes to an open textbook

Which files are editable

Most files can be edited, but the task isn’t always simple. To determine whether a file is suitable for editing, one must ask these questions:

  • How easy or difficult is the file to edit? Does it require more than one or two steps?
  • Is additional technology required to edit the file?
  • Was the file type designed with editing in mind?

Text documents are the most editable file type because changes can be made directly to the file’s native format, and the task does not require additional steps or technology.[1] Examples of text document files are OpenOffice (ODT) and Microsoft Word (DOCX).

xHTML and XML files are designed for interoperability, i.e. the transfer of information from one source to another. xHTML (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language) is a member of the XML family and acts as an extended and stricter version of the broadly used HTML (Hypertext Markup Language).[2] Editing these types of files is typically a two-step process whereby the second step involves transferring the file to a system that allows editing of the file. HTML files can work in certain platforms including WordPress if an HTML Import plugin is used.

EPUB files are designed for portability. These files can be read by most eReader devices and software. The point of these files is not to provide editing capability, but to deliver a comprehensive package that contains all elements of a book including text and images — like a zipped package — to a device for reading offline. However, Pressbooks does accept an EPUB file so that it too can be edited once added to this platform. Like the xHTML and XML files, editing using an EPUB file is a two-step process.

A PDF file (Portable Document Text) can be edited with the right software, such as Adobe Acrobat PDF Editor, but doing so is not ideal. The PDF format was designed to represent documents not create or change them.[3]

If you are working in Pressbooks, see How to Export Different File Types from a Textbook in the BCcampus Open Education Pressbooks Guide.

Beyond text

In addition to providing editable files for the textbook, authors should also consider offering editable files for media included in their textbook or as supplemental OER, such as images, audio clips and video files, and the transcripts that accompany these media. Some questions to ask when doing this are:

  • Is the format open or proprietary?
  • Is the format built for viewing or for portability between operating systems?
  • How simple is the format to use?
  • How well does it integrate with other technologies such as Pressbooks and LMSs (Learning Management Systems, e.g., Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, Desire2Learn)?
  • How compatible is the format with online devices?
  • Will the format allow editing? If so, how easy or difficult is this to do?

File types and accessibility

Black and white photo of Josie Gray
Josie Gray

One of Josie Gray’s tasks as Open Education Production Assistant with BCcampus is to review open textbooks for accessibility and edit them so they meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). She says that some file types work with some assistive technologies better than others and that having multiple file types available allows students to select the format that works best for them and their learning style.

For example, EPUB and MOBI files work best for people who want to access content through their phone or tablet offline, as the text and content will adjust to fit the screen. While PDFs are the easiest file type to open and use, they don’t work well with mobile devices, screen readers, or text-to-speech technology.  Instead, students using screen readers will likely use the web version of the book.

Alternatively, people who need a larger text size may choose to use a PDF or the web version, as both formats make it easy to enlarge the text size.

Print copies of a book are important for people who prefer learning from print materials. In addition, they are the best option for people who are not comfortable with computers or don’t have a reliable Internet access. (See Print-on-Demand Copies.)

For more information on accessibility in open textbooks, see the BCcampus Open Education Accessibility Toolkit.

Audio files

Audio files embedded into the web version of a textbook or offered as a stand-alone resource for a printed book can assist students who are visually impaired or those with a learning disability, as they can listen while reading along. Each of the twenty-three open textbooks in the Common Core Trades series includes an audio file in addition to the textbook. For adults learning to read, audio clips of short stories from the accompanying text are embedded throughout the B.C. Reads: Adult Literacy Fundamental English, Course Pack 1.

Page added: Feb 20/18 | Last update: Oct 13/21


  1. Can changes be made?: I tend to scribble a lot by Nic McPhee used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 License.
  2. Some of this text is from Finding the Key to Open by Lauri Aesoph and is used under a CC BY 4.0 International Licence.

  1. "Choosing the Right File Format/Text Documents," Wikibooks, last revised July 26, 2017, (accessed August 17, 2017). This information is used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.
  2. "HTML," Wikipedia, last revised August 12, 2017, (accessed August 17, 2017), and "XHTML," Wikipedia, last revised April 24, 2017, (accessed August 17, 2017). This information is used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.
  3. "PDF Reference, sixth edition: Adobe Portable Document Format version 1.7," Adobe Systems Incorporated, November 2006, (accessed August 17, 2017).


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Self-Publishing Guide Copyright © 2018 by Lauri M. Aesoph is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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